Bach cantata an ill fit on chamber bill

Times Staff Writer

A Bach cantata contemplating the joys of life beyond death seems an odd bedfellow for romantic music by Reinecke, Schumann and Schubert. And, in fact, it didn't quite fit stylistically or thematically in a chamber music program played by members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and two guests Tuesday night at Walt Disney Concert Hall. But it provided an opportunity to appreciate at least one orchestra member who might otherwise not be showcased.

Strangely popular these days, considering its theme, Cantata No. 82, "Ich habe genug" (I have enough), rejects worldly life and yearns for the eternal happiness promised to the Christian believer. The text was inspired by an episode in the Gospel of Luke in which the aged Simeon says that his life has finally been fulfilled with the sight of the infant Jesus.

The bass soloist was Eric Owens, impressively seen here in 2006 as Elliot Goldenthal's tortured hero-villain in Los Angeles Opera's "Grendel." On Tuesday, Owens used his grainy but focused voice modestly but effectively, although he didn't probe the text very deeply or memorably.

Ariana Ghez was the lapidary oboe soloist. The most expressive player, however, was violinist Robert Vijay Gupta, at 20 the youngest member of the orchestra. Without breaking the bounds of collaboration or good taste, Gupta inflected his lines most tellingly.

The rest of the ensemble consisted of violinist David Chernyavsky, violist Meredith Snow, cellist Jonathan Karoly and guest organist Mark Robson, a regular on the Piano Spheres and Jacaranda series.

The program opened with Reinecke's Impromptu on a Theme From Schumann's "Manfred," with husband-and-wife pianists Joanne Pearce Martin (the orchestra's principal keyboardist) and Gavin Martin in perfect sync. The music doesn't go very deep, but it has a certain salon charm.

The Martins were joined by cellists Peter Stumpf and Ben Hong and horn player Bruce Hudson for the original version of Schumann's Andante and Variations, which incorporates one of the songs from the composer's cycle "Frauenliebe und Leben" (A Woman's Love and Life). The variations traverse a variety of moods and, despite some balance issues, the five musicians played them with care and sympathy.

The concert concluded with Schubert's Quartet No. 13 in A minor, "Rosamunde," which takes its name from the composer's incidental music for an ill-fated play -- music that was also used for a set of variations in the Andante.

Violinist Mark Kashper was the leading expressive voice in the piece, gently and artfully articulating the haunting theme of the opening movement. His colleagues, violinist Mitchell Newman, violist Hui Liu and cellist David Garrett, tended, perhaps reasonably, to defer to him, but one wished for stronger musical contributions from them.


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